Explore – Westmeath
Situated in the heart of Ireland, Westmeath boasts a ring of breathtaking scenery! Rolling hills, unspoilt countryside and wild boglands to diverse water features including picturesque lakes, tranquil canals and the mighty River Shannon.
Things to do
Overlooking the Shannon, dominating the town centre of Athlone, the Athlone Castle stands as the gateway to the West for over 800 years. This Norman castle was built in 1210 and still exhibits some elements of the original medieval fortification together with various additions and alterations made throughout the centuries to suit the different needs of the different historic periods that the castle has witnessed. The Castles Visitor Centre contains some educational displays on the Siege of Athlone with many elements of a military nature. Folk and musical items are also exhibited at the Visitors Centre, including two sheila-na-gigs. Visitors can also learn about the flora and fauna of the river Shannon.
The Shannon is the perfect setting for a multitude of activities, including boating and kayaking or simply walking along the river banks or relaxing aboard one of the many cruise boats available in the region. For a time travelling experience jump aboard a replica Viking longship dressed up in a full Viking costume and prepare to conquer the Shannon.
Many fisheries can be found across the county and trout fishing is specially popular in the loughs around Mullingar.
Like many other counties across Ireland, county Westmeath is home to some imposing houses and gardens, namely Belvedere House Gardens & Park. This is a fascinating 18th century Georgian estate on the shores of Lough Ennel and it was home to the infamous Robert Rochfort, later lord Belvedere in 1740. Rochfort accused his wife of having an affair with one of his brothers and put her in house arrest for 30 years. The Victorian Garden is a feast for the senses with tumbling herbaceous borders, rose garden, fragant herb garden and kitchen garden.
Tullinally Castle is a grandiose Gothic revival castle set in 12 hectares of gardens and parkland. The castle is closed to the public, but visitors are free to roam the gardens and park containing ornamental lakes and a Chinese and a Tibetan garden.
Another interesting attraction is the Lockes Distillery Museum, thought to be the oldest pot still distillery in the world. It began whiskey production from 1757 and continued until 1957. The museum offers a self-guided or guided tour and is open 7 days a week. The guided tour offers a look at the process of making distilled Irish whiskey, from beginning to end.
Mullaghmeen Forest is an isolated area of forest rising above the farm land of north Westmeath and is the largest planted beech forest in Ireland. Along with beech, Mullaghmeen also has Sitka spruce, Scots pine and noble fir and a very interesting native tree collection.
This 1,000 acre forest offers picnickers a shady haven in which to feast and provides the more energetic with scenic walks of varying length. The Red Trail takes you to the summit of Mullaghmeen and provides magnificent views north across Lough Sheelin and into the neighbouring county of Cavan.
The area is populated with grey squirrels, jays, badgers, foxes, pheasant, rabbit and hares, as well as a large selection of song birds. Come in spring for the best displays of woodland flowers, notably bluebells.
Visit Loughcrew Cairns, the best kept secret in archaeological Ireland.In a landscape of inspiring beauty and intriguing history, the cairns at Loughcrew form the largest complex of passage graves in Ireland.
In a tranquil, green valley in the village of Fore, about a 30-minute drive from Mullingar in County Westmeath, visitors can view the site where St Fechin founded a Christian monastery in the 7th Century. It’s believed that before his death, 300 monks lived in the community. Later, the monastery was set fire 12 times. Among the remains, visitors can see St Fechin’s church, built about 900. They will also find one of the 18 Fore crosses, which are spread out over 10 kilometres on roadways and in fields.
Places to Stay
Hidden Ireland Historic Country Guest Houses
Bed and Breakfast
Lough Bawn House
A classic Georgian house in a unique setting. Lough Bawn house sits high above Lough Bane with amazing sweeping views. Nestled in a 50 acre parkland at the end of a long drive, Lough Bawn House is a haven of peace and tranquillity. The house and estate has been in the same family since it was built in 1820 by George Battesby, the current occupier, Verity’s, Great Great Great Grandfather. The house is being lovingly restored by Verity, having returned from England to live in the family home. Verity ran her own catering and events company in Gloucestershire for over 20 years. Her passion for cooking & entertaining shines through. Guests enjoy an extensive and varied breakfast with much of the ingredients being grown or reared by Verity herself, and delicious dinners are on offer. Breakfast is eaten in the large newly restored dining room, with wonderful views over the lough and of the parading peacocks on the rolling lawns. Both of the large, en-suite rooms have fine views down the length of Lough Bane and over the wooded hills. Guests are warmly welcomed and encouraged to relax in the homely drawing room in front of a roaring fire or to explore one of the many local historical sites, gardens, walks or cultural entertainments on offer. Several areas of the estate have been classified as Special Areas of Conservation (SAC‘s) due to the incredibly varied and rare flora. Wild flowers can be found in abundance and a charming fern walk has been the created amongst the woodland near the house.
Renowned for its warm hospitality and tranquility, Mornington captures the true spirit of Hidden Ireland amidst the sparkling lakes, rolling hills and ancient forests of County Westmeath. This has been the home of the O’Hara family since 1858 and is now in the careful stewardship of Warwick and Anne O’Hara. Meals are one of the highlights of staying at Mornington since Anne is a talented and imaginative cook who always insists on using prime ingredients. Guests enjoywalking to Lough Derravaragh, visiting the passage graves at Loughcrew, the remains of the early Christian site at Fore or Belvedere House and gardens.